Monday, June 23, 2014

Military Capability
     One of the interesting, but uncomfortable, questions not being asked by politicians, pundits, and the Pentagon as we wring our hands over the current crisis in Iraq is  how the Iraqi military that "experts" deemed capable of defending Iraq has failed so miserably.  The Pentagon spent billions of dollars and years training and equipping the Iraqi military.  In the first meaningful test of its effectiveness it's folding like a cheap tent with almost two full divisions deserting, American supplied equipment falling into enemy hands, and some Iraqi cities being surrendered without a fight.
     It appears that the misjudgments, lies, and absence of accountability that led us into Iraq in 2003 continued through our departure in 2011....4400 lives and three trillion dollars later

Monday, June 16, 2014

Uncomfortable questions
     The broad public attention being focused on the military service of Sgt. Bowe Burgdahl  may raise some uncomfortable questions for the Pentagon.  I noted in a previous blog entry that if Sgt. Bergdahl is charged with desertion, the Army may have to explain why it has more than 3,500 deserters per year over the past twelve years and does nothing to recover or punish those deserters.  The policy brings into question the leadership abilities and discipline of the service.  Additionally, it brings into question the financial stewardship of the Army as each soldier who deserts represents a substantial investment in training and recruitment costs.
     The Army may also have to explain why it would enlist a person in 2008 who just two years earlier was discharged from the Coast Guard, reportedly for "psychological reasons".  In 2008, at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army experienced severe recruiting difficulties and lowered enlistment standards.  Waivers were granted to enlistees in unprecedented numbers for criminal histories and behavioral and medical problems that should have disqualified them from service.  The decision to compromise standards was made at the highest levels of the Pentagon.
     Finally, Sgt. Bergdahl left his post on at least one other occasion before the incident that led to his capture.  There is no record of his having been disciplined for doing non-judicial action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  The Army just may have to explain why.  The answer may reflect a broader perspective of discipline in the Army as Courts Martial fell 30% from 2004 to 2013 and bad conduct discharges fell more than 20%.  Choosing bad soldiers over no soldiers is not without consequences.
     Army policies and institutional failures may have contributed to Sgt. Bergdahl's circumstances and need to be considered as pundits, politicians, and uniformed military bureaucrats judge not only Sgt. Bergdahl but also themselves while a nation of limited liability patriots looks on.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Politicizing patriotism
     Before politicians and pundits become completely overwhelmed by righteous indignation and ignorance regarding the release of Sgt. Bergdahl and the circumstances under which he became a prisoner of the Taliban they may want to consider several facts.  First, he volunteered to serve his country and go into Harm's Way putting his life at risk.  He willingly did what 99% of Americans decline to do....serve their country.  Limited liability patriots should think hard about judging someone willing to do what they decline to do.
     Second, if Sgt. Bergdahl is charged with desertion he will be joining tens of thousands of soldiers who have deserted since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started...yes...tens of thousands.  Department of Defense data show that from 1997 to 2004 an average of 3348 soldiers deserted each year (6.33 per thousand)  and an average of 1440 Marines deserted in that time frame (8.31 per thousand).  In 2001 the Army had 4597 deserters.  In 2007 4698 soldiers deserted.  As shocking as these numbers are, what may be even more shocking is the Army's response....which is basically nothing.  There is no specific effort, organization, or budget to locate and "bring them in".  In November of 2007 CBS News reported that "Despite the continued increase in desertions, however, and Associated Press examination of Pentagon figures earlier this year shows that the military does little to find those who bolt, and rarely prosecutes the ones they get.  Some are allowed to simply return to their units, while most are given less than honorable discharges."  In fact, in the few cases where deserters are referred for court-martial, the accused is allowed to request "discharge in lieu of court-martial" and accepts an "other than honorable conditions administrative discharge".  If the Army decides to charge Sgt. Bergdahl with desertion it will place itself in the uncomfortable position of having to explain why it has chosen to ignore similar conduct among more than 3000 soldiers every year; inconsistency at best, politically motivated hypocrisy at worst.
     Finally, we do not know the circumstances of Sgt. Bergdahl's capture, his state of mind at the time, or his purpose in leaving the outpost to which he was assigned in Afghanistan.  We do know, though, that tens of thousands of service members returning from Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, depression, anxiety, paranoia, and social adjustment problems.  We also know that politicians, pundits, and the public are troubled by these problems and the VA's failures in addressing them.  It could well be that Sgt. Bergdahl suffered from some of these same problems for which we express such compassion among returned veterans while he was still in combat and before he could be placed on a fictitious waiting list at the VA

Monday, June 2, 2014

Commander in Chief
     As commander in chief the president of the United States is required to make difficult decisions.  The decision to exchange five detainees held for more than ten years at Guantanamo Bay for an American soldier held by the Taliban for five years was the right call.  Critics of the decision argue that these five were really bad actors.  If so, after ten years, why have they not been tried in a court of law or military tribunal?  They also argue that the release was made without Congressional  approval 30 days in advance as required by law but overlook the fact that we went to war in Afghanistan and stayed for thirteen years without a declaration of war by Congress as required by law.  Finally, these critics argue that the five will probably return to terrorist activities.  They probably will.  But it is not as if the Taliban has suspended operations over the past ten years waiting for their return.  These same critics also seem to overlook the fact that 70% of those released from US prisons each year are arrested within three years of release and 50% return to prison in three years.
     It is easy for those who have no "skin in the game" to question the decisions of the commander in chief.  What if it were their son who volunteered to serve his country while most Americans went about their lives as limited liability patriots.  Let the critics make their case personally to the parents of Sgt. Bergdahl.  Politically motivated righteous indignation melts away in the face of the human suffering and sacrifice of a soldier and his family.